Fine motor skills for 4 year olds are the type of activities that hone your child’s pincer grip so that they can hold a pencil properly and strengthen the small muscles of the hand. It will also also help with hand-eye coordination.

Recent research on kindergarten fine motor skills and executive function had findings indicating that both fine motor skills and executive function measured at kindergarten entry predicted growth in math and reading achievement through middle school after controlling for gender, socioeconomic status, and early math and reading skills.

These associations were positive, such that starting kindergarten with better fine motor skills or executive function ratings was related to steeper rates of growth in both math and reading.

That said young children all develop at different rates, and at their own pace. Fine motor skills for 4 year olds shouldn’t be a checklist but rather a guide. Of course, if you are worried that you child is struggling with fine motor skills milestones and you are worried about developmental delays, and they are not improving despite using the activities below. Then that is the time to talk to your paediatrician or early childhood occupational therapist.

Dr Montessori’s Take On It

Maria Montessori was well before her time, putting together activities that had more than one function, for example, she designed cylinder puzzles that have small knobs on the top. The primary purpose of the activity is to become aware of the size and depth of the cylinders but the secondary purpose is to strengthen the pincer grasp.

Working on the child’s fine motor skills is also important for building concentration. 

It will become apparent when your child has the need to practice their fine motor skills, one week they will be bouncing around unable to sit still for more than 30 seconds next thing you know, poking small items into small holes can keep them quiet for half an hour.

a girl using the montessori knobbled cylinders which strengthens herFine motor skills

Fine motor skills are an important part of childhood development and should be encouraged. But what are they and why is it important?

AREAS OF MOTOR SKILLS DEVELOPMENT

WHOLE ARM

This is the gross motor development, using larger muscles and includes the upper arm, forearm and shoulder. The child needs to control these as well as their fingers.

Activities include:

  • Large painting and drawing at easels
  • Using equipment such as rakes, brooms and shovels
  • Bouncing and throwing a ball
  • Climbing – anything that uses upper body strength
  • Anything that involves pushing, pulling and large arm movements

WHOLE HAND

Developing hand muscles is important for grasping actions and finger movements. This development can be seen even in babies as they learn to grasp different shaped objects and transfer objects from hand to hand and hand to mouth.

Activities to increase hand strength include:

  • Spooning activities
  • Using a spray bottle to water plants/paint
  • Playdoh, rolling the playdoh, using a cutter etc.
  • Pouring activities, moving water from one object to another

PINCER GRIP

This is using the thumb, index and middle finger to coordinate and move objects, this hones in on eye-hand coordination. It is sometimes called the tripod grip which used when holding a pencil for writing.

Activities include for pincer:

  • Using tweezers and tongs to transfer small objects
  • Threading beads onto a lace
  • Building blocks including Lego
  • Making small objects with Playdoh
a blond boy pouring a jug of milk into a bowl of cereal and practiving his fine motor skills for 4 year olds

Setting up activities for fine motor skills for 4 year olds

Now, you don’t need to rush out and buy expensive equipment, you can create a great fine motor activity, with what you have on hand. There are plenty of activities that you can set up at home and now that you know that many of Montessori’s original activities have fine motor skills as a secondary function you will start to see things in a different light…

IMPORTANT NOTE

A child’s fine motor skill development improves as they handle small objects, at 4 years old, most children will be past the ‘mouthing’ stage but it is always a good idea to be aware of what the child is doing when they are using small objects that could be potential chocking hazards. If mouthing is a problem, there are different materials and exercises listed below that don’t use small objects.

You can also use the same activities all the time, just increase the difficulty by making the objects smaller or by using pincers or other tools. Make sure you bookmark or pin this page so you can come back and reference it often!

poster with the words 50 Fine motor skills for 4 year olds and an ipad showing a sorting activity using coloured dinosaurs

Disclosure: The following activities include affiliate links which means I make a small commission, at no cost to you, if you decide to buy something.

Sorting small objects such as beads, dried beans or buttons

Easy to set up, choose objects that can be sorted by shape, size or colour and place them in a bowl and then provide a tray or smaller bowls to sort them into. Check this post out here.

Matching nuts and bolts

Raid the shed and see how many different-sized nuts and bolts you can find. Place the nuts in one bowl and the bolts in the other and show your child how to find the matching set then when they are all matched, arrange them in size. See and example here.

Posting small objects

You can use anything for this, such as pipes cleaners or drinking straws, posted into the neck of a PET bottle

Pipet or water dropper

Kids love working with water. Use a dropper to create art with or to transfer coloured water from one bowl to another.

Pouring from one container to another

Small jugs work well for this (scour your local charity/op shops) as your child gets better at this you will notice the way that they grip the handle of the jug changes. Here is an example. You can sneak this in as extra practice by having them pour their own drinks using chld sized jugs and glasses.

Threading beads

You can get some great chunky wooden beads these days, you could make some cards for your child to follow as their pincer grip gets stronger you can change this up and start using small beads like the ones for making necklaces. Here is an an example.

Hanging out laundry

Using clothes pegs is quite a skill! Get your child to help you with the laundry, I’m a big fan of getting kids involved with looking after the home. Or set up an activity where they hang up their doll’s clothes with clothes pegs.

a small white girl hanging out laundry outside

Balancing marbles onto golf tees

Use a polystyrene block and show your child how to push the gold tees into the block. Then ask them to balance marbles onto the tees, not as easy as it sounds. Up the ante by getting them to use pincers to lift the marbles!

Putting coins into a money box 

Kids love listening to the noise it makes too. If you have any foreign coins you could add this in with your cultural studies, coins and stamps make a great addition to your culture shelf.

Matching padlocks and keys

Collect a selection of locks and their keys together Put the keys in one bowl and locks in another. Challenge your child to find the correct key for each lock. My nephew had an uncanny knack for getting this right just by looking at the locks!

Using building blocks

Any kind of block build is great. Lego is perfect and although Duplo is advised for smaller kids, I have seen plenty of toddlers work wonders with small blocks of regular Lego. Both free play and having them follow instructions or replicating block designs can be done here.

Board games that use small pieces

A board game that uses small pieces work for this, even if your child can’t actually play, lots of fun can be had. My son would play with the scrabble board before he could spell etc. My top recommendation for extra pincer training is the game Operation, and a fantastic game older children which works well for mixed ages/abilities is Bananagrams.

Buckle and unbuckling and buttoning skills

Anything where the child is practising buckling up or fastening buttons, zips, hooks and eyes. The Montessori dressing frames are a great fine motor skills activity but dressing dolls and teddy bears is a good substitute. Using buttons can be quite difficult so start with large buttons and as their skills improve you can move to small buttons.

Fine motor skills for 4 year olds, a child with brown hair using the montessori dressing frame, fastening big white buttons on purple fabric.

Matching colours

Using coloured clothes pegs and coloured cards, the child matches the card and peg by attaching the peg to the coloured card. 

Picking up mini pom poms

You need some mini pom-poms in a bowl, tweezers and an ice cube tray. Show the child how to pick up the pom-pom with the tweezers and place it in the ice-cube tray. I always bought mixed-sized bags like this one, not only can you use it for this type of activity but there are all types of crafts to be done with pom-poms too!

Spooning 

Another one that is easy to increase the difficulty by changing what you set out. Use two bowls, one with the beans/rice/marbles/pom-poms and a spoon. Move the objects from one bowl to the other. 

Peeling fruit

Anything in fact that needs peeling, satsumas are perfect, nuts, bananas, grapes (if you are Japanese!)

Using lacing cards 

There are loads of store-bought types out there or make your own. If you are making your own lace, put tape around the end to make it easier to thread, trying to thread with a frayed lace is extremely annoying.

Sewing 

Younger kids can use a plastic needle, yarn and burlap. For older kids, sewing buttons onto felt is a great way to start and make their own simple softies out of felt.

Transferring objects

This is easy to set up at home. Have the child move objects from one bowl to another, they can start with their fingers but you can also mix it up by using a spoon, tweezers, pincers or chopsticks. Use dried beans, beads, buttons, rice or some kind of counter. As the child’s fine motor control increases, use smaller objects to make it more challenging.

Fine motor skills for 4 year olds activity sorting plastic coloured dinosaurs into matching coloured bowls using pincers

Counting

Activities which use small objects as counters. You don’t need anything special to do this, coins, buttons, Lego pieces, acorns after a walk, sticks.

Using scissors

Just cutting to start with safety scissors and cutting on the line, cutting out simple shapes etc. My son loved THIS BOOK from Kumon. There are also activities included in the free resource library. If you suspect your child is a lefty, please invest in a pair of left handed scissors, it will make their life so much easier.

Matching coloured paper clips

To coloured dots on a card. This is similar to the pegs but more difficult.

Pin punching 

This is a popular activity and is a great one to build concentration skills too. Follow an outline and punch all the way around using a push pin. Or like we did HERE make astronomy books, punching the star constellations.

Seed Picking

Picking seeds out of a fruit or vegetable such as pumpkin works as a sensory activity too! More sensory activities in this post.

Play Dough

Not only keeps them quiet for a long time it is also working those little muscles. Making peas or beans or eyes, anything that involves rolling the playdoh between the thumb and fingers is good. My go-to play dough recipe is HERE

Popping bubble wrap 

Who doesn’t love doing this! It does need to be between two fingers to be working the right muscles. There also popping figet toys available but they are not quite as satisfying. (in my opinion!)

Learning to tie laces

A skill many kids don’t have before they start school these days. My son’s yochien (kindy) has a clever workaround as many kids here don’t have laced shoes. The kid’s bento (lunchbox) bag had to have laces so the kids practised every lunchtime when they got out their bento. By the end of the first term, my son had mastered it.

Playing a musical instrument

Piano, recorder, guitar, and violin are just a few great instruments for working those pincer muscles.

Arranging flowers in a vase

This is another one that is also a sensory activity and great fine motor practice. A small vase or glass, even a jam jar and a few flowers from the garden or your nature walk is a great activity.

Finger painting or fingerprinting

messy, yes but great for getting those little fingers active. Making fingerprint paintings is a lot of fun, the Ed Emberley books are brilliant if you need a bit of inspiration.

a child showing the paint of their fingers

Making sculptures with marshmallows and toothpicks 

This is good fun, a great activity to do with friends but only if eating the project isn’t going to spoil dinner! Get a bag of mini marshmallows and some toothpicks the see who can build a house, a car, a tower…

Glueing seeds and beans 

To make a mosaic or picture – I vividly remember doing this when I was at school! Glue, seeds and a card are all you need! You could start this with the activity of picking out the seeds then wash and try them before making art withthem.

Ripping 

Smaller kids just like ripping paper, maybe it’s the sound? Older kids you can rip up an old magazine to make pictures & collages. This is a good sensory activity, you can find more of these here.

Playing bingo

Using counters instead of marking a cross on the paper. This is great because you can reuse the bingo cards over and over again!

Sorting M&M’s into colours

And putting them in your mouth!) Would work for skittles or similar sweets too.

Finger puppet play

This can be a great project to do, making finger puppets and then playing with them. Finger puppets were one of the things I always had in my bag when we left the house, there are endless ways to divert a child’s attention when stuck on a train or at the bank if you have a finger puppet or two handy.

Red Ted Art have some great tutorials such as this one

Stacking objects

Again, the smaller the objects the more difficult it becomes and the better control they have. Try using coins, cards, blocks, paper cups etc. 

Playing tiddlywinks

 An oldie but a goodie, in fact, many of the simple old games are great for pincer muscles, pick-up sticks, Chinese Chequers…

Typing counts as fine motor skills for 4 year olds

Although there are games and activities available on the iPad which claim to help with development of fine motor skills, I’m not really a fan. I think it is better to help the kids by using real life materials. But typing is a skill all kids should have these days and if you have an old typewriter this is a lot of fun.

Elastic bands

 Or hair bobbles onto different-sized objects. A bag of elastic bands can bring a lot of fun. Try putting them over bottles or a can. On door handles is another good one. The different sized bands and objects can make the activity harder.

Fastening safety pins onto cloth

Fine motor skills for 4 year olds and kids that are a bit older, because it’s not easy! If you have any nappy/diaper pins, they are good to start with, then work your way down to smaller safety pins.

Using a stapler or hole punch

Kids LOVE using stationery items, give them a stack of old paper and a punch or stapler and they will come up with their own game. Did you know that most hole punches punch holes that are just the right size for Lego so now you can add paper to your Lego building fun!

Sharpening pencils 

There is something very satisfying about sharpening pencils. You can also use the pencil shaving for making art with.

Sticking pipe cleaners into colander holes

Grab your kitchen colander and some pipe cleaners and create a masterpiece of modern art sculpture or other threading activities.

Fine motor skills for 4 year olds using a lacing board, a child is pishing a blue lace through the holes on a wooden board

Weaving 

I had a little kitchen shelf with was like a wire rack, attach a ribbon at one end with clothes peg and then weave the ribbon through the rack. Any other kind of weaving would work too as would loom bands (hands up, who still have 5 million of them in the cupboard?)

Hammering nails are great fine motor skills for 4 year olds

At four, kids are starting to flex their muscles and hammering is a great way to work on that. Hammering into wood is the norm but you can do it into a pumpkin if it is the right time of year, for an alternative. Marking where to hammer the nails rather than just random nail bashing will make it a bit harder. You can do it as a wall art project like THIS

Knobbled puzzles 

Montessori puzzles always come with the little knob handles for the puzzle pieces, this is the way she designed them. Even regular jigsaw patterns work as a development of these skills.

Using a crayon, pencil, or paintbrush

Any use of a writing implement is good, there are ergonomic crayons available to help the child learn how to hold the pencil correctly. We always liked  Rock Crayons.

Does your child or children have a favourite fine motor skill at the moment, let me know what it is in the comments section.

If you liked this post, you will love my book Montessori Inspired Activities For Pre-Schoolers, available in kindle and paperback from Amazon and all good bookstores.

A small child colouring on a large piece of paper with coloured pens

Wrap Up – Fine motor skills for 4 year olds

As you can see there are plenty of ways to add fine motor skills for 4 year olds into your daily routine, even pretend play that might not seem like it is helping with child development your child will be flexing their fine motor muscles! Some of these you can simple add to your day, others you can set up an activity or two on a tray for them to try.

If this post was helpful then you should grab a copy of my book, Montessori Inspired Activities for Preschoolers which has lots more easy activities to do at home.

3D book of montessori inspired activities for preschoolers, the book is blue and has a child zesting an orange on the cover

IF YOU DIDN’T YET SIGN UP FOR THE FREE RESOURCES LIBRARY, DO IT HERE. THERE ARE LOTS OF ACTIVITIES INCLUDED AND YES, SENSORY IDEAS ARE IN THERE TOO!

Other Posts You Might Enjoy: